6 min read

Does It Matter How Old a Politician Is?

Does It Matter How Old a Politician Is?
Photo by Aron Visuals / Unsplash

Biden's age is all over the news right now.

It's in the headlines, it's being mentioned on talkshows, and it's burning its way across social media. His 81 years on planet Earth have people questioning whether he is physically and mentally capable of carrying out the duties as President of the United States.

Conversely, the same question is being asked about Donald Trump- although not as loudly, and not as often. He is, after all, a whopping 4 years younger than Biden is.

The issue was raised with Dianne Feinstein, who maintained her Senate seat until her death at the age of 90- and there is no question she should have retired much sooner than that, given the confusion and memory lapses she suffered in public near the end.

The age of politicians and world leaders is a subject of much debate. There are people who would like to see an age cap or a term limit placed on the job, to prevent situations like we saw with Senator Feinstein.

Still others would posit that to do so would be a form of discrimination based on age, which is technically true.

I can see the argument for both sides, and I personally lean towards term limits at the very least. Extreme age in a world leader can be a problem for a number of reasons, some of which to do with health and some to do with policy.

That said, if the only problem the current nominees for President of the United States had were their ages, we'd be in a much better place. I'm far more concerned with their policy platforms than their date of birth.

But there are things to do with their age that do raise legitimate questions, specifically with regards to political careers. They are, after all, insisting that they should be making decisions that alter other people's lives.

The biggest issue with advanced age is that it leaves you vulnerable to illness and a decline in cognitive ability. The older you are, the more your memory and executive functioning can be affected and the harder it is for your body to cope with stress.

How memory and thinking ability change with age - Harvard Health
The brain is continuously changing and developing across the entire life span. There is no period in life when the brain and its functions just hold steady. Some cognitive abilities become weaker w…

Does this mean that all seniors are incapable of working? Obviously not! It just means that the job of a politician is likely to become more difficult over time, and that the intense stress of the job will wear you down more and more.

That in and of itself isn't enough to block someone from doing a phenomenal job as a leader and policy maker. But it does become concerning when we see incidents like when Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell froze up in visible confusion during press conferences.

I'm still stuck on the time Senator Feinstein vehemently denied having been on medical leave for over two months, insisting that she'd been present in the building and voting the entire time.

It brings to mind the persistent rumors that President Ronald Reagan was already suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's whilst he was in the White House, long before his official diagnosis.

The idea of a President developing dementia while in office...It's something that calls for serious consideration. They're responsible for leading the nation during times of peace and strife, for making hard decisions and representing the country on the world stage in front of all of America's allies.

It's a scary thought, and for good reason. Dementia and Alzheimer's destroy the brain's ability to think critically and make good judgements. That's not something you want to risk with the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.

But a big part of what concerns me personally with senior politicians is the simple fact that the world has been- and still is- evolving past their life experiences.

Most of them will not have to live with the consequences of the actions they take. They will be making decisions about a future that they will not be here to experience. And what's more, they grew up in a world vastly different from the one that we have.

Does that mean that all seniors are incapable of understanding new technologies or progressive societal ideas? Obviously not. That would be a ridiculous claim to make.

But imagine what the world would be like if the Founding Fathers were still making rules in the United States- the guys who owned slaves and believed that Black people were lesser than white people, who thought that women were inferior and that only wealthy landowners should be allowed to vote.

...actually, reading that back, maybe it wouldn't be so different after all.

Lastly, what I'd like to discuss is the issue of representation. Younger people have considerably less representation in government in the United States than the older generations.

House gets younger, Senate gets older: A look at the age and generation of lawmakers in the 118th Congress
The median age of voting House lawmakers is 57.9 years, while the new Senate’s median age is 65.3 years.

There are issues that young people are passionate about that people from older generations may struggle to grasp.

Have you ever had an elderly relative pull the, 'back in my day' spiel at you? Maybe tell you that buying a house was easy, working a retail job paid their mortgage and got them a college degree?

Frustrating as hell, ain't it?

How many times have you heard the, 'he's a product of his time' excuse used to justify an elderly person's bigotry against immigrants or LGBTQ+ people?

The expectations and cultural norms of society are vastly different now than they were 60 years ago. The cost of living is different, price inflation has changed everything, and even the basics of how to apply for a job are totally different now.

While we can hope that most politicians get regularly briefed on these issues, that doesn't mean that elderly lawmakers grasp the nuances half as well as the younger officials who've lived through it.

That's not even mentioning Climate Change, which is among the most vital issues in the eyes of young voters and which is regularly ignored by senior ones.

Youth without representation
Published on January 17, 2023

And plus, if you want to talk about discrimination based on age, how about the fact that you have to be over the age of 35 in order to run for President?

Obviously you can't have a 10-year-old kid sitting in the Oval Office, but surely by the age of 25 you're a capable adult, aren't you? 18-year-olds can be shipped out to shoot people in other countries, but you have to be over 35 to declare a war you won't be a part of.

A minimum age requirement for the reason of maturity and mental stability is apparently fine, but a maximum requirement for the same reason is ridiculous and discriminatory.

Does the age of a politician matter? Sure. Should there be term limits, or an age cut off? Term limits at least, applied to the Senate and the House.

People shouldn't be serving until they die of old age, in my humble opinion, and there should be more opportunities for young people in politics without the insurmountable problem of an aging, long-serving incumbent.

Bottom line, the reason I'm concerned about this election has little to do with the age of the nominees. I'm concerned about the risk of losing democracy in the United States, and what Trump's gods-awful decisions will do to the world economy.

I'm worried about human rights, backsliding away from progress and into the 50s again. I'm worried about authoritarianism, and the fascist revival that's already taking shape.

Biden's age might be a problem for his health and for his stability, sure. No question that the man is a senior, and he's going to find the job difficult to do because of it.

But he's still the better candidate than The Former Guy, and we can't forget that just because he's 81.

Solidarity wins.